Standing in Support of LGBTQ+ Health Insurance Rights

THE CHALLENGE:

In 2018, the North Carolina State Employee Health Plan cut off certain insurance benefits for transgender individuals, violating federal anti-discrimination policies that had been put in place the year before.

In response, civil rights organization Lambda Legal represented a group of transgender people and parents of transgender people to challenge the decision. When the State Plan moved to dismiss the lawsuit, the district court denied the motion, holding that the State Plan had waived sovereign immunity for discrimination claims as a condition of receiving federal healthcare funds.

The State Plan appealed the decision to the Fourth Circuit, arguing that it had not actually waived sovereign immunity because the waiver was not clear to them.

OUR OBJECTIVE:

At Lambda Legal’s request, Michael Weaver led a McDermott pro bono team, including lawyers from McDermott Discovery, to assist Equality North Carolina—a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to securing rights and protections for LGBTQ+ people in the state—in drafting an amicus brief in the appeal.

Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Equality North Carolina uncovered a paper trail demonstrating that State Plan officials repeatedly made decisions about healthcare coverage with the knowledge that their discriminatory policies would subject the State Plan to a lawsuit.

Using this evidence, the pro bono team created and filed an amicus brief that demonstrated the fallacy of the State Plan’s argument.

THE OUTCOME:

While the Fourth Circuit has not yet ruled on the case, Lambda Legal was thrilled with the brief, saying, “The McDermott team has simply done SUPERB work. The pro bono review of our documents alone was an enormous lift… But the brief itself is a tour de force, and makes an irreplaceable contribution to the appeal.”